Scientist turns cattle parts into plastic

A University of Alberta scientist has figured out a way to transform cattle parts into plastic to offer a potentially profitable alternative to the disposal of all those bits that the mad cow crisis turned into waste.

Biochemical engineer David Bressler holds up discs made from a plastic that he has derived from cattle parts in this handout photo.

Biochemical engineer David Bressler holds up discs made from a plastic that he has derived from cattle parts in this handout photo.

EDMONTON — A University of Alberta scientist has figured out a way to transform cattle parts into plastic to offer a potentially profitable alternative to the disposal of all those bits that the mad cow crisis turned into waste.

“We’re one of the few projects that was kind of a wild card — go out and see if we could add value,” said biochemical engineer David Bressler.

Canada’s cattle industry was devastated in 2003 when mad cow disease was discovered on an Alberta farm. In addition to trade disruptions that continue to plague ranchers, cattle brains and spinal cords, known as specified risk materials, could no longer be used for fear of possible infection and were rendered worthless.

What producers or meat processors once sold for up to $100 a tonne now costs them $30 a tonne in disposal costs.

Bressler, with funding from government and industry, was asked to see if he could find a way to make that material useful again.

He and his team found they could use highly pressurized water to break down proteins in the materials into smaller bits that could be bound together with a second chemical — much like the rungs joining two sides of a ladder.

The process creates a brownish, opaque, odourless powder that can be cast into any shape. Its strength and flexibility can be adjusted by altering the number of chemical steps joining the two sides.

“What we’re doing in our lab is testing different cross-linking and different amounts of cross-linking to see if we can build up something that makes a very rigid or very soft plastic,” said Bressler.

“We’ve been talking with a couple of the big auto parts manufacturers in Canada that sell globally. We’re sending them materials and they’re testing it out and giving us feedback on how to modify it.”

His group has applied for patents on the product, although it’s probably two or three years away from commercial feasibility.

About 5,000 tonnes of cow parts a week are dumped into landfills, estimated Bressler. That garbage could yield 3,500 tonnes of raw material for the new plastic.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

DynaLife is hiring more staff to bring waiting times for blood tests down in Red Deer. (AP Photo/Jacqueline Larma, File)
DynaLIFE is hiring more staff in Red Deer to reduce wait times

Wait times for appointment will be further reduced

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

ALERT’s Internet Child Exploitation (ICE) Unit
Two central Albertans charged with child porn

ALERT’s Internet Child Exploitation unit arrests 24 suspects

A child writes in their school notebook during a home schooling session in Cremona, Alta., Monday, March 23, 2020, amid the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of students in Calgary will shift to online learning as of today in a bid to curb rising COVID-19 infection rates in the city. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Alberta begins rolling out AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for those 40 or older

Alberta begins rolling out AstraZeneca COVID vaccine for those 40 or older

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges all the empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist which is a independent pharmacy during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto, on Monday, April 19, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
A vial of the Medicago vaccine sits on a surface. CARe Clinic, located in Red Deer, has been selected to participate in the third phase of vaccine study. (Photo courtesy www.medicago.com)
Red Deer clinical research centre participating in plant-based COVID-19 vaccine trial

A Red Deer research centre has been selected to participate in the… Continue reading

Pharmacist Barbara Violo arranges empty vials of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine that she has provided to customers at the Junction Chemist, an independent pharmacy in Toronto, Monday, April 19, 2021. Younger Canadians in several provinces are now able to get the AstraZeneca vaccine. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Trudeau, Freeland seeking AstraZeneca shots as they become age-eligible with others

OTTAWA — Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland… Continue reading

The Rogers Logo is photographed on a Toronto office on Monday, September 30, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/ Tijana Martin
Rogers says wireless service fully restored but questions remain after massive outage

A massive countrywide wireless outage that left millions of Rogers Communications Inc.… Continue reading

sign
Alberta Biobord Corp. recently hosted a virtual open house from Stettler

The company plans to develop a fuel pellet and medium density fibre board (MDF) plant near the community

The controversial Super League is materializing after Madrid and 11 other clubs announced its creation on Sunday. (File photo by BLACK PRESS)
Super League a ‘longtime dream’ for Madrid president Pérez

League created because coronavirus pandemic left clubs in a dire financial situation

San Jose Sharks centre Patrick Marleau (12) skates during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild, in San Jose, Calif., Monday, March 29, 2021. Marleau is skating in his 1,757th game. Only one other player in NHL history has hit that mark. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Tony Avelar
Patrick Marleau set to break Gordie Howe’s record for most NHL games played

Marleau was set to suit up for the 1,768th time Monday

FILE - In this Saturday April 17, 2021 file photo, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II follows the coffin in a car as it makes it’s way past the Round Tower during the funeral of Britain’s Prince Philip inside Windsor Castle in Windsor, England. Now that the Royal Family has said farewell to Prince Philip, attention will turn to Queen Elizabeth II’s 95th birthday on Wednesday, April 21 and, in coming months, the celebrations marking her 70 years on the throne. This combination of events is reminding the United Kingdom that the reign of the queen, the only monarch most of her subjects have ever known, is finite. (Leon Neal/Pool via AP, file)
Queen enters ‘twilight’ of reign after farewell to Philip

Charles’ increased role began gradually

This combination photo shows Oscar nominees for best actress, from left, Viola Davis in “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom,” Andra Day in “The United States vs Billie Holiday,” Vanessa Kirby in “Pieces of a Woman,” Frances McDormand in “Nomadland and Carey Mulligan in Promising Young Woman.” (Netflix, from left, Hulu, Netflix, Searchlight Pictures, Focus Features via AP)
Oscar predictions: Can anything beat ‘Nomadland’?

Best actress race is perhaps the biggest wild card

Letters
Letter: Restrictions have nothing to do with religion

Many have framed the closure of GraceLife Church near Edmonton by Alberta… Continue reading

Most Read